June 7, 2011  |  Film
Bringing The Loveless to MoMA

The Loveless. 1982. USA. Written and directed by Kathryn Bigelow, Monty Montgomery

The Loveless. 1982. USA. Written and directed by Kathryn Bigelow, Monty Montgomery

Kathryn Bigelow, the Academy Award–winning director of The Hurt Locker (2008) (and the subject of MoMA’s current exhibition Crafting Genre: Kathryn Bigelow), boasts an accomplished oeuvre of engrossing and exhilarating films that are unified in their defiance of genre expectations, their sensual and visceral imagery, and their examination of societal mores and individual psyches. Every distinguished filmmaker starts somewhere, and before Bigelow made her first feature film, she studied painting at the San Francisco Art Institute and film scholarship and criticism at Columbia University. She has drawn from this academic background throughout her career, especially in her first feature film. It was at Columbia that she met fellow screenwriter Monty Montgomery, with whom Bigelow collaborated on a script called U.S. 17, a story of bikers who wreak havoc while en route to the races at Daytona. The script is a study in Americana that evokes influences as varied as Walker Evans, Kenneth Anger, Edward Hopper, and Douglas Sirk. As part of their rigorous preproduction research, the filmmakers utilized the resources of MoMA’s Film Study Center (our own Charles Silver is mentioned in the film’s credits). In that way, the Museum’s relationship with the film began well before it eventually entered our collection.

Kathryn Bigelow and Andy Warhol, Deauville, September 1981. Photo: Philippe Ledru

Kathryn Bigelow and Andy Warhol, Deauville, September 1981. Photo: Philippe Ledru

Bigelow and Montgomery began codirecting the production of U.S. 17 on September 22, 1980, in a small town in Georgia off of Route 17. The shoot took only 25 days, but its critically lauded journey through the festival circuit would last several years and span several countries (including Italy, Germany, France, and Scotland). Bigelow’s relationship with MoMA would also continue. In a letter dated December 3, 1980, while she was in post-production on U.S. 17, Bigelow informed Larry Kardish, Senior Curator in the Department of Film, of the film’s progress: “Right now we are in the last stages of the rough cut; the soundtrack is in the process of being composed and recorded, our mix dates are the first two weeks in February and our corrected answer print will be out of the lab on February 20th.” Larry watched a rough cut in January 1981, and shortly after the film underwent its first name change, from U.S. 17 to Breakdown. It was under this name that Bigelow’s first feature film had its world premiere, at the Festival del Film Locarno, Switzerland, on August 18, 1981. The film was reviewed and entered critical consciousness as Breakdown, but the title was short-lived: it screened as The Loveless at its American premiere on March 27, 1982, at the Los Angeles International Film Exposition. The Loveless became the film’s release title, and it began its New York run at the Waverly Theater on January 20, 1984 (among the premiere night attendees were Bigelow’s friends and colleagues Robert Mapplethorpe and Andy Warhol). A few years later, the film would find a permanent home a couple dozen blocks uptown in The Museum of Modern Art’s collection. The Department of Film acquired a 35mm print of The Loveless in 1988, on the occasion of its screening during MoMA’s Cineprobe program (known to audiences today as Modern Mondays, our evenings of discussion with contemporary moving-image artists). Over 20 years later, The Loveless has once again found its way to MoMA: the film screens at the Museum on June 9 and August 13.


I am a PhD candidate at Bryn Mawr college and would like to include images of the two portraits Bigelow painted of the Killing Fields victims in my dissertation. They were the ones she painted based on photos in the newspaper article. Please let me know if and how it would be possible to get these files.


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